Three myths surrounding Boris Johnson’s ‘New Deal’

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘build, build, build’ speech on 30 June failed to throw much light on what, or if, there is a distinctive Johnsonian approach to economic policy. As many commentators noted, the £5 billion he pledged for various infrastructure deployments is a small amount for a government recovery plan, less than one quarter of one per cent of pre-pandemic annual output. This is like turning up to a battle with a water pistol.

As we assess the substance, if any, of Johnsonomics over the coming weeks and months of announcements, we can start by dismissing some of the fanciful narratives that are doing the rounds, both from the government’s supporters and its critics. The first, and most pertinent, myth is that the economic woes we face are primarily the result of the pandemic lockdown. In fact, they long predate it. The second myth is that we are entering a distinctive era of state economic leadership that marks the rejection of ‘neoliberal’ orthodoxies. And the third myth, given Johnson hails his plans as ‘Rooseveltian’, is that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal ended the Great 1930s Depression.

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Beyond the zombie economy

The UK’s productivity problem not only long precedes the Brexit discussions. It also long precedes the 2008 financial crisis. Longer-term studies actually reveal that the decline in productivity growth, not just in Britain but across mature industrialised countries, has been pretty relentless since the 1970s. That its slowdown began so long ago means the problem is deep-seated and therefore justifies a substantial strategic response. This is usually presented as an activist industrial policy.

But the big paradox about industrial policies is the contrast between the extensive cross-party consensus on this issue and the lack of headway in reviving investment and productivity. Read the full article here.

 

The myth of Corbyn’s radicalism

Given the fears generated by the prospect of a Corbyn-led government, just how radical is it likely to be? Should we really expect Britain’s first anti-capitalist government? Certainly not on the basis of what Corbyn and McDonnell and their cheerleaders have been writing and saying about their future Labour government. Read the full essay here.

2019: the economic picture isn’t rosy

Compared to the start of 2018, economic forecasters at the end of the years are much more gloomly about global economic prospects for the forthcoming period. Trade wars, the ‘end’ of cheap money, excessive emerging market corporate debt, and Britain ‘crashing out’ of the EU are some of the major risks identified in the turn-of-the-year economic projections. We’re told that sluggishness is taking hold again.

Despite the shift in tone there is still too much complacency about the deeper challenges we’re facing. Here are three that deserve more attention and discussion, not just by forecasters but by all of us: accumulating Western atrophy inflaming international economic unevenness; exorbitant debt levels in the mature nations; dysfunctional economic policies.

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The crash 10 years on

The most telling contemporary observation about the ‘worst financial crisis in global history’ (to quote Ben Bernanke, who was chair of the US Federal Reserve when the crash hit in 2008) is that its causes are unresolved. It is true that the financial crash brought about a recession 10 years ago, but it did not trigger the fundamental weakness of the real economy. Slowing productivity growth across the mature economies can be traced back to the early 1970s. It was from that decay within production that the rot spread, gradually, unevenly, but steadfastly. The financial crash was simply one of this decay’s most serious manifestations.

Despite the shock felt in 2008, it is striking how little has changed in economic terms since then.

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